Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Tuesday Round-up

with 4 comments

The transit technology choice debate keeps on going. The Economist blog has a summary “Trolleying out the same old arguments” which pits Walker against Nordahl via a link to a Slate article by Tom Vanderbilt. So it’s not just the comments section of this blog that gets all of a froth about these things. Even so, there are things that made me stop and wonder about who does the editing at the Economist

Trolley tracks and electric lines running down the middle of the street, however, are a promise: a line runs here. It may be ten minutes between trolleys, it may be half an hour, but something is going to come down that line and take you where you’re going. The very expense of creating the line tells you: the government has invested too much in this infrastructure for there to be no service. The rails are, literally, an ironclad guarantee.

No they’re not. Lots of rails have been left in place where there is no train service or even hope of one. It is often regarded as just too expensive to dig them up. If you are a stranger in town and see some rails, I would advise not to expect a train to come down them without doing some research first. Even if the tracks are shiny – that may just be the friction of all those car tires going over them. CP still maintain the level crossings along the Arbutus Line since it has not been legally abandoned – although no-one in their right mind would expect an interurban to be rolling along this

Arbutus CP right of way 2

OK that’s a bit silly, but all of the Seattle waterfront streetcar tracks were in place last time I was there (they may have gone now in the wake of taking down their viaducts) but there is no hope of service returning

Former Waterfront Streetcar Track

The TTC debate about LRT versus subway won’t go away soon either. Mayor Ford’s declaration the war on the car had ended could not have been clearer. His decision about getting rid of a plan for lots of LRT on street tracks in favour of much less coverage by a subway or two was all about not getting in the way of people who want to drive. But it does not make much sense – as the Calgary Manager of transit planning puts it

“With some money, you can build a little bit of subway and make a few people very happy,” Mr. McKendrick said. “Or [with the same amount of money] you can build a whole lot of light rail and make a lot of people happy.”


the woman Mr. Ford appointed to head the Toronto Transit Commission has added her voice …. Karen Stintz argues it makes more sense to put the LRT underground only along the most congested part of the route, in midtown, while building it on the surface in the spacious suburbs.

The article ends with a quote from Jarrett Walker – of course.

Translink is promising more transit – but as usual in ways that make me wince.

It refers to large numbers of service hours for buses – without stating service hours per what unit of time. “An additional 40,000 service hours in April” sounds like a lot – until you ask yourself is that hours per year? Or hours this year from April to year end – and when is that anyway? Of course there is no mention of what that means as a percentage of what we currently have.

The Base Plan (page 22) states that  4,928,000 hours per year will be delivered by the bus service each year from 2012 to 2021.

So if the 40,000 is an annual figure that is an additional 0.8% – which is not much really, is it?

“by year’s end, 180,000 new service hours will be in place” or 3.6%. To make that figure look respectable I chose to just look at bus service. Use the total annual service hours of 6,918,000 it’s only 2.6% which is better than no increase at all but hardly startling given the present levels of overcrowding.

There’s a lot of blether about Faregates and how they are going to be more efficient and convenient for customers. Nothing about how the present system does not require most passengers with valid media to interact with anything now – and how easy it is to get in and out of stations and on to busy buses. And how systems with gates still manage to lose money to fare evaders, and how much the system is costing when there are many greater needs. Well, you can’t expect Translink to bite the hand that feeds it (even if so inadequately and inanely).

I could not resist the story from New York (in Atlantic Cities) about one very inventive homeless person has managed to secure himself an income by utilizing the unused value of discarded transit passes. The Metrocard is sold in round dollar figures, not rides, and while people can top them up they are more likely to discard them with some value left on them and buy a new one. (Which reminds me, I have one somewhere I should dig out.) That adds $52 a year to MTA revenues – and someone has found a way to get his hands on a little of that. It’s an offence, of course.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I was just referencing on Bula all the “dead track” we found scattered around False Creek while working on the VHQ Charrette, and the competition entry for the Viaducts & the False Creek Flats.

    Our proposal for a “False Creek Streetcar” (it could be any technology on rails) just kept growing and growing, until the only conclusion we could draw was that the reason there is so much connectivity just lying around is that these “dead tracks” are remnants of the historical past. The map can be looked at here:

    The startling discoveries, traveling east, begin with the track linking Granville Island/Canada Line (the Olympic Tram) and VCC Clark. Track heads north from there along Glen & Raymur to the waterfront.

    We’re showing new street track along Powell because we are interested in arguing “residential intensification”, and running the service on the CPR tracks just puts it too far away from the residential base. With LRT on Hastings, this stretch is overserved.

    We run into a muddle trying to get the line to go back to False Creek. The 50-foot CPR/BC Electric R.O.W. is tempting to contemplate linking to Carrall Street, and finding a way onto Pacific Boulevard.

    From there things start to look up. The competition brief stated out right that there was excess capacity on Pacific Boulevard. Thus, one supposes, lots of room for track. It’s an open question how far the line runs. It should be possible to loop around the Burrard Street Bridge.

    Going in the other direction, the track connects through Kitsilano into the Arbutus corridor, over the Fraser, and on as far as Chilliwack—site of this year’s Metro retreat.

    lewis n. villegas

    January 25, 2012 at 2:52 pm

  2. Good morning Lewis,

    The rail ended at loco 374, (since removed) . . .

    . . . in Kits Park, Cornwall @ Arbutus.

    The line, was built over in the early 70’s @ 2nd ave entrance to GI.

    I’ll be the tracks are still there underneath the junk.

    Roger Kemble

    January 26, 2012 at 3:53 am

  3. PS . . . not to ignore the line branched off from the trestle up Arbutus to Steveston where it can be seen in Kerrisdale . . .

    Roger Kemble

    January 26, 2012 at 4:11 am

  4. 7th Ave was repaved in the mid 2000s.. and indeed, the crossing was restored, stop sign and all.

    re the line to Kits beach… The definitive source:

    The Other David

    January 28, 2012 at 11:10 pm

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